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Underreported editors’ conference on agric business

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Martins Oloja

Martins Oloja

It is indeed a paradox of journalism development that a weeklong conference organized by the aristocracy of the Nigerian mass media, the Guild of Editors (NGE) could be described as underreported. Unfortunately, that was what happened recently in Port Harcourt. How should we contextually report that events organized by supervisors of reporters (editors) of other people, other organizations’ events could not supervise the same reporters that covered or should have covered their event? Should we say the reporters who should not be supervised to cover an open event failed us? Or should be say this lamentation is a reflection of the state of the newsrooms that have un-enterprising and unskilled reporters at the moment? And, in the main, who should be blamed for the production and recruitment of young graduates of even Journalism and English language who cannot watch, listen and report on events, peoples and places these days? The answers to these few questions will blow in the wind for a long time until we come to ourselves, and begin to ask where the rains began to beat all of us. Yes, all of us that once upon a time attended good schools and were mentored too by excellent reporters and editors most of who were not graduates, anyway.

Let us move way from the book of lamentation on standards to the field where we almost failed the nation on an important theme of the just concluded All Nigerian Editor’s Conference (ANEC) in Port Harcourt. The theme of the conference: Economic Diversification: Agriculture As Option For a Prosperous Nigeria (3-7 August 2016) was timely and significant and most participants said so. What’s more, resource persons were the ones even Peter Drucker could be pleased with and tag as “knowledge workers” even in global context. You would agree with me that topics on agriculture would not be attractive to reporters in a milieu where only most political people, places and events make the news all the time. But the resource persons who are very educated commercial farmers in Nigeria (not from Zimbabwe, please) were the difference makers at the well-attended conference. But as usual, the politically exposed figures at the conference, notably the Governors of Rivers State, the State of Osun, the Minister of Information and Culture and representatives of the Governors of Plateau, Niger, Bauchi, Bayelsa, Akwa Ibom and representative of the INEC Chairman, etc stole the show.

Most people must have watched and read the opening and closing ceremonies on television and some newspapers. Besides, the other story that must have caught the attention of most interested observers about Port Harcourt 2016 was confirmation of Mrs Funke Egbemode as President of the Nigerian Guild of Editors. But most Nigerians at such a time like this when oil and gas sector as the mainstay of our economy is a cause for concern, must have missed the significant gains of the conference, no thanks to our reporters who might have escaped after the opening ceremonies and returned for the closing ceremonies and the gala night at the Government House (as usual) where the deputy governor of Akwa ibom, a veteran journalist was inducted as a Fellow of the Guild.

This is the tragic denouement of the Port Harcourt 2016 where two of the best examples of Nigerian successful farmers demonstrated in their presentations how to create real value chains that can make the difference that the theme captured: “…agriculture as option for a prosperous Nigeria. There were three alternative social actors that reporters would have beamed their search light on in Port Harcourt: Ms Mosunmola Cynthia Umoru, Technical Adviser, (Youth & Gender), to Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, who also manages a thriving commercial farm in Ife near the great university of Ife. Ms Mosunmola, 37, very educated, hails from Edo state and she acquired hectres of plot of land in Osun state. Then the phenomenon we never knew from the so-called core North West (Kano) Malam Abubakar D. Abubakar, Managing Director, L & Z Farms in Kano. We the arrogant and the ignorant from the South always dismiss the core North as nothing more then PMB and his empty men watched as Malam Abubakar a retired banker told us his pedigree as a very successful dairy farmer based in Kano who pays a monthly wage bill of N67 million. The very successful commercial farmer told editors what we need to know about “practicality of agriculture, the upstream, midstream and downstream sectors of agriculture”.

The man who proved to us that he is wealthy from his dairy farming, said he is “uncowed” by current recession. To him the most significant stream remain “those at the bottom, itinerant farmers and not the “upstream sector’s mega farmers”. He noted that the most prominent in the media are “the midstream sector’s aggregators who buy off the products”. He added that the other significant ones are the downstream sector’s processors” that are in the market and it ends there. Malam Abubakar who said he had never been to part Harcourt “but my dairy products are here”, said “the challenge before policy makers is how to link the upstream sector of agriculture (mega farmers) to the downstream sector (processors) for all to benefit from the value chains”.

The Kano man said in this time and age, agriculture should be weaned from “culture” to “business” and therefore should be developed to be respected as “agri-business” instead as “agri-culture”. He hinted that the country needs “the right policy to get there. He said for instance, that dairy farmers need protection that they don’t have at the moment’. He argued that from secondary schools, children should be made to know that farming as a vocation is not inferior and not synonymous with poverty. He said that at that stage and beyond, people and even the elite who want to be involved in agric business should be aware of various sources of capital in the money and capital markets “including venture capital, equity, term loans and overdraft”. The ‘northener’ who also noted that all the factors of production including land, capital and labour are here with us said “ what we need most from the officials in Abuja and state capitals are the right policies in place and the investors in agriculture will come”. Malam Abubakar disclosed that because of his success story and clean books he has kept, he had some dates with some direct foreign investors that have been disturbing him “about investing heavily in his farm ventures” on dairy products alone. Besides the policy thrust he advised the authorities to note that at the moment, investors pay so much on utility bills alone “as a major project cost”.

All told, the Malam who vaunted that he could take his ‘very large family’ on a holiday to any parts of the world as he does every year challenged science journalists to investigate, for instance, “milk products in the country’s market that can cause cancer. He noted that the safest milk is the one obtained directly from cows. The man who did not present any written paper told editors and participants that, “agriculture is possible and sexy and we can begin to start adding value when we get the authorities to put the right policies and incentives in place and we get citizens to believe in it as a big business and “when investors are ready to suffer losses and all that for the first 5 years” before the period of stabilization.

For Mosun who is doing a part-time post-graduate study at Stanford University, she would like journalists and indeed editors to note that “our wealth in Nigeria is not in oil but in soil of more than 18 million hectares…”. She would like the Nigerian Guild of Editors “to be the advocates of change we need in the agriculture sector”.

Besides, the graduate of a Nigerian university would like the Nigerian journalists to report, analyse and interpret agriculture stories beyond the ordinary farms to other derivations such as logistics operations ownerships to move agriculture products from farms to consumers and markets. She wants the news media to report the cooperative movements that can be part of the value chains. She wants the traditional and social media “to write useful articles that can educate young graduates about the dignity of labour and wealth that can emanate from commercial farming”. Mosun who said after travelling abroad and interacting with other scholars noted to the delight of cheering participants that “I am 37 as an investor. I am a professor really and the gang members I turn to for discussion abroad are barely 25 to 27 years.

The only difference is their conducive environment for agriculture practice and financing. I am a professor but in my environment I am not…”
The lady who has a pet name, “prettymissfarmer”, which is reflected in her email and website links, said she has been sleepless about crass ignorance of the enormous opportunities in the agriculture business in a country where N200 million could be made daily if consumers in Nigeria can each spend even N100 to N300 daily as an alternative too to the N6 billion we use to import certain items for consumption at the same time. She looked at the editors in the face and said, “I hope I can disturb your sleep editors, to think about the trouble and danger that food insecurity poses to us and the N6 billion on foods that can be procured from here…Please, think about the N6 billion alone and the by products of agriculture such as clothes, building and furniture materials such as lime-stones for cement and cottons for clothes that we can invest in…” She received a standing ovation.

So did Mrs Onimim Jacks, Rivers State Commissioner for Agriculture, a discussant and lawyer too who is known as a practicing commercial farmer. The woman who teams up with her husband for commercial farming in Rivers noted that “journalists should follow up on the state of “Central Bank of Nigeria’s agriculture development funds”. She added, ‘let’s cooperate and encourage ourselves about farming, market, transport, processing, export, teach and write about all the expose by Lady Mosun. Let’s give ourselves the right information about this…” Mr. Ray Ekpu, who chaired the first business session was excited that the pretty Mosun who spoke the language of agriculture business “is an excellent example of what our young people should be”. Earlier, former Governor of Delta State, Dr. Emmanuel Uduaghan, exponent of “Delta Beyond Oil” suggested a viable association of agriculture journalists (AAG) to take the beat seriously.

These are just parts of the significant deliberations that opening and closing ceremonies always destroy in our conversations on serious issues of urgent national importance. Reporters, please wake up to report the state of Nigeria and its situation rooms.

Inside Stuff Grammar School:

Devoted Vs Devout Christian/Muslim.
Please note that when you write a profile of a deeply religious, reverent, sincere and devoted person, describe the person as a “devout”, not “devoted” person. A devoted person only demonstrates loyalty some dedication that can change. But in the realm of religion, please talk about a “devout” Christian or Muslim.


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1 Comment
  • Anne Mumuney

    What an inspiring article. I hope that there will be much more coverage of agriculture related events so that people will know what’s out there. The agricultural ministries, state and federal need to generate awareness programs, farmers markets, agricultural shows where animals , plants and products and equipment can be shown, and even organisations like IITA get involved. The dairy farmer is of particular interest, because I have always felt that our vegetation and breed of cows did not produce good dairy cattle. I would love to know how this farmer managed to overcome these obstacles and how he moves his produce. If we can produce good dairy cattle, what stops us from producing beef that can out rival Argentinian beef, and lamb that can compete with new Zealand lamb, because our meat is very tasty but lacks tenderness, and smoothness. I hope more and more journalists give ample coverage to these important issues.